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Archive for July, 2013

A Bird’s Eye View of My Workflow with Lightroom 4, Nik Software Plug-Ins & Photoshop CS5

Shafer CanyonA few weeks ago I was asked a question about my digital darkroom workflow by one of my private photography tour clients.  He enjoyed making digital images but admitted that he wasn’t sure what to do with them once they landed on his computer.  I asked if he was using Lightroom and learned that he wasn’t.  I explained a few of the major advantages in using Lightroom to process RAW images and he was instantly sold on it.  I also explained that I make extensive use of Nik Software plug-ins from within Lightroom.  My client went home and purchased Lightroom 4 as well as the Nik Complete Collection.   Soon thereafter I received an email from him asking me to describe how I use Lightroom, the Nik plug-ins and Photoshop within my workflow.  He didn’t need a tutorial on how to use each product.  Rather, he was curious what part each one played in the overall scope of my workflow.

I’ve been using Photoshop since 2002 and Lightroom since it launched in 2007.  I discovered the Nik plug-ins about two years ago.  Though I don’t consider myself an expert with any of them, I do admit that I take for granted my ability to use them to accomplish my artistic goals.  I hadn’t given much thought to how each piece of the image processing puzzle fits together until my client asked me to define how I use each one in my own workflow.  It occurred to me that I figured it all out on my own, through a process of trial and error.  Surely there is a more efficient way to learn how and when to use each tool.  With that in mind, I decided to share a macro look at my workflow with the hope that it will help other photographers who may be struggling to put the puzzle pieces together.

The first thing you should know is that the process I’ll describe is not the right way.  It’s not the wrong way, either.  It’s justmy way.   It’s what works for me and it’s taken a number of years to get here.  I’m offering this as a jumping off point.  It’ll give you the boost to get started and when you’re up and running, you’ll develop your own way of doing things.  If your way works for you, it’s the right way.  Find what works and run with it.  Now, let’s get on to the good stuff…

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

Lightroom 4 is the workhorse of my workflow.  It does all the heavy lifting.  Lightroom 4 is the very first step in my workflow.  I import my RAW images from the CF card directly into Lightroom 4 using a folder hierarchy organized by state.  One of the biggest timesavers in Lightroom 4 is the ability to apply a keyword set to all imported images, which is a step I never, ever skip.  Once the RAW files are imported I embark upon the tedious and time consuming task of weeding through them to separate the keepers from the trash.

Once I’ve identified images that make the cut the next step is to add more specific keywords and titles.  I do this before I start processing the images simply to ensure that I don’t get so excited about the final image that I forget to update the metadata.  Hey, I’ve got a short attention span!  Now that the digital asset management crap is out of the way, the fun begins – processing those RAW files.

Lightroom was designed in such a way that, for the most part, you start at the top of the adjustment panel and work your way to the bottom.  This is not a “how to use Lightroom” tutorial and I’m not going to go into detail about each and every tool.  If that’s what you’re looking for I highly recommend Piet van Den Eynde’s excellent e-book, “Lightroom 4 Unmasked“.   Here’s a partial list of the adjustments available in Lightroom 4: dust spot removal, white balance, exposure, highlight and shadow recovery, white and black point, vibrance, saturation, contrast, curves adjustments, HSL (hue, saturation, luminance) color channel adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and more.  Lots more.  After making these global adjustments I’ll move on to fine tuning the image with local adjustments using the adjustment brush and/or graduated filter.  Global adjustments are those that affect the entire image as a whole.  Local adjustments target specific areas of the image.  Dodging and burning (selective darkening and lightening) are classic examples of local adjustments.

When I’m done making local adjustments the image is getting very close to final form.  For those of you who like percentages, let’s call it 75% to 85% complete.  Next up: Nik Software plug-ins.  I use these plug-ins on every single imageI process.

Nik Software Complete Collection

I prefer to make most of my creative edits using Nik Software plug-ins, primarily Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.  Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 shoulders the load for all of my black and white conversions.  The best analogy I can relate is this: I use Lightroom 4 as a broad brush would be used to paint an entire wall while the Nik plug-ins are akin to using a detail brush for trim pieces.  Ever notice how much more impact a door has when the trim is painted a contrasting color?  I find that my images are much more impactful when I use the Nik Complete Collection to make small creative edits.

Every image pays a visit to Viveza 2, where I often use Nik Control Points to make precise selections that allow me to make highly targeted adjustments to brightness, saturation, contrast, structure (very fine detail enhancement) and more.  I commonly use Viveza 2 to easily resolve white balance conflicts.  I also use Viveza 2 for more precise dodging and burning than is possible with Lightroom 4.  One of the major advantages in using Viveza 2 for this lies in the power of Nik’s Control Points, which allow you to select a certain color or tone with ease and without having to create complicated masks.  I don’t know what kind of insane algorithms are at work behind the scenes but the whole process is simple, powerful and very clean.

After Viveza 2 I’ll often bring an image into Color Efex Pro 4 for final creative edits.  Color Efex Pro 4 is essentially a collection of digital photo filters, some of which mimic the effects of their analog brethren like circular polarizers or graduated neutral density filters, while others exist only in the digital darkroom.  Contained within this amazing plug-in are filters that give foliage extra zing, landscapes more warmth and clouds more definition.  Every once in a while I’ll find myself flummoxed by an image with an odd color cast.  Luckily, there’s a Color Efex Pro 4 filter that zaps color casts in about 4 seconds flat.

In most cases, this trip through Nik Software plug-ins is the end of the line for my processing workflow and always takes place inside Lightroom.  When working with the Nik plug-ins you have the option to use them as a Lightroom or Photoshop plug-in.  The major advantage to using them inside Photoshop is the ability to save a layered file that allows you to go back and re-edit the image at any time.  This is not something that interests me.  It’s a personal choice and if you’re new to using the Nik plug-ins I encourage you to try both ways to gain an appreciation for your own workflow preference.

Adobe Photoshop CS5

Why not CS6 or CC?  Because I’m cheap, that’s why.  I work so infrequently in Photoshop that I see no need to upgrade to the latest and greatest version when the one I have now does everything I need it to do.  So, what do I need Photoshop to do?  If I’m working with multiple images to increase dynamic range or depth of field (exposure blending or focus stacking), Photoshop is the only way to get it done.  Very rarely do I ever have a need to do any kind of complicated cloning but when I do, it’s in Photoshop.  As I write this, I just learned that Lightroom 5 was released tonight and it now offers a more advanced heal/clone brush than has been included in any prior version.  I haven’t used it but I suspect it is still rudimentary when compared to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill capabilities.  Lastly, I still use Photoshop for printing.  Yes, you can print from within Lightroom 4 (and now, 5) and as I understand, it’s a pretty fluid process, but Photoshop still has its hooks in me when it comes to printing.

So, there it is.  A birds eye view of my digital darkroom workflow.  Remember: this is not the right workflow, nor is it the only workflow.  It’s a starting point for those of you who are just digging into Lightroom, Nik Software Complete Collection and/or Photoshop.  Try it out for a while and you’ll soon find yourself falling face first into your very own workflow.  It may be similar to mine or it could be completely different.  Either way, it’s not better or worse – just different. The most important thing is that you take that first step and allow yourself the freedom to experiment and create. Have fun!

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Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.


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light photographyA few weeks ago I ran my first workshop here in the US. Different than my safaris and photo tours, in Africa, where we are racing from one location to the next, I wanted to offer a workshop with an emphasis on dramatic lighting.  When I started developing my tribal work in Africa, I began studying photojournalist, humanitarian, and fashion photographers. I studied the trends, but mostly their use of light. This is when I started using reflectors, modifiers, and off camera flash. It opened up a whole new exciting creative world. What I also noticed is that I began seeking out this more dramatic lighting when shooting wildlife. I would take the safe shot but then wanted something more over the top; golden light on a subject just wasn’t enough anymore.

 morning light

I have always enjoyed photographing horses and a real working cattle ranch with cowboys/girls seem to fit my brand; mixing animals and people.  I wanted to help photographers think differently about the subjects there were shooting, by thinking more about how they were using the light. From the very first shoot we worked on side lighting and rim lighting.  We continued to up it by adding moody elements like dust and water and by the end of the workshop it was so exciting to see everyone stretch themselves trying to capture more dynamic images.

Here are a few images from the participants. We would take a few images in normal golden light but then take a risk by shooting into the light. The first two images both show the wranglers galloping horses through water, but the second is shot with the sun at a 45 degree angle from the subject.

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PiperMackayPiper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and  The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries.  Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund.  She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing.   Please visit Piper’s website at 



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